|Wildcats, Sun Devils set for Territorial Cup duel|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 01 December 2008 22:59|
For the Sun Devils (5-6, 4-4 Pac-10), a victory would bring a minor bowl berth and slap a happy face on an otherwise ugly season.
For Arizona (6-5, 4-4), a victory would end a frustrating three-game losing streak to its arch rival and provide further evidence of the once-decrepit program's growth under coach Mike Stoops.
er it's recruiting, there's a lot in these types of games.''
Speaking at about the same moment in Tempe, Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson made no effort to downplay the importance of the game.
``I'm not speaking for University of Arizona, but for us it's the biggest game every year, and has been forever,'' said Erickson, who capped his debut season with a three-point win over the Wildcats a year ago. ``So, whoever wins that game has bragging rights for a year.''
In each of the last two years, the Wildcats needed a victory over ASU to ensure a bowl berth, and both times they came up short. Arizona has already wrapped up its first postseason trip since 1998, although the destination remains a mystery, while ASU is still frantically pursuing a bowl bid.
``We've really lost two opportunities to play in the postseason, in this game, the last two years,'' Stoops said. ``Now the shoe's on the other foot this year.''
Stoops made a splash in his first season when he upset No. 18 Arizona State. But the Wildcats have lost the last three Territorial Cup games - and with each loss, it seems, the pressure on Stoops has escalated.
ashington State on Nov. 8 - but it began to swirl again after losses to Oregon and Oregon State.
Athletic director Jim Livengood on Monday reiterated his support for his football coach.
``I don't think I've ever backed off from that,'' Livengood said. ``I don't think I've ever said anything different. I said last week, the week before, I think we've made great improvement. We need to finish games. I think I've been very consistent on that.''
Arizona's inability to close out games has been costly in the Pac-10, where it has lost to Stanford by 1 point, Oregon State by 2, USC by 7 and Oregon by 10.
The Wildcats hope to reverse that trend against ASU. If history is an indication, it figures to be a tight game; three of the last four meetings have been decided by seven points or fewer.
The Wildcats and Sun Devils have much in common this year.
Both teams lost to Mountain West opponents - Arizona at New Mexico and ASU at home to UNLV.
Both teams swept Pac-10 weaklings UCLA, Washington and Washington State.
Arizona's signature victory was a 42-27 whipping of then-No. 25 California on Oct. 18. ASU's finest moment was a 41-17 victory on Sept. 6 over Stanford, which finished 5-7.
may be deceptive.
ASU is riding a three-game win streak, but it has come against Washington, Washington State and UCLA, who are a combined 6-29.
Arizona has dropped two in a row for the first time all season, to Oregon and Oregon State, which are a combined 17-5.
``We understand we're a good football team, and we can compete anywhere with anybody,'' Stoops said.
ASU is feeling the same way. The defending Pac-10 co-champs entered the season ranked 15th but lost six straight games, matching a school record.
The Sun Devils' defense has led the late turnaround. ASU scored four defensive touchdowns - three on interception returns - in a 34-9 victory over UCLA last Friday night in Tempe.
``Fortunately, we've been able to come back from 2-6 and win some games and have an opportunity, if we were to win this football game, to go to a bowl game,'' Erickson said. ``That would be something special for us. The game itself is more than any bowl game you can go to, I'm sure for both teams.''